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This is the end of the countdown. Some readers have expressed an interest in knowing what other games were considered, so I have included an Honorable Mention list in the comments section following this post. Thank you to all who participated and gave feedback. I hope it was very enjoyable for everyone.
10. BYU 21, Notre Dame 14 (October 15, 1994)
9. BYU 31, TCU 17 (September 28, 2006)
8. BYU 70, Utah 31 (November 18, 1989)
7. BYU 18, Texas A&M 17 (September 8, 1979)
6. BYU 20, Pittsburgh 14 (September 1, 1984)
5. BYU 14, Oklahoma 13 (September 5, 2009)
4. BYU 24, Michigan 17 (December 21, 1984)
3. BYU 19, Kansas State 15 (January 1, 1997)
2. BYU 46, SMU 45 (December 19, 1980)
1. BYU 28, Miami 21 (September 8, 1990)
Miami is probably the best team that BYU has ever beaten. On this day, however, BYU dominated. BYU racked up 474 yards of total offense. The defense limited the Hurricanes to less than 300 yards passing and only 96 yards rushing on 37 carries (2.6 yards per carry). Earl Kauffman kicked two field goals and averaged 53.8 yards on his four punts. The game was a total team effort. The only thing that kept this game close was five BYU turnovers (four fumbles, one interception).
This game won the Heisman Trophy for Ty Detmer. He looked the part in every way. With time running out in the second quarter, Detmer dissected the Miami defense to lead BYU to a touchdown and a 17-14 lead at the break. Later in the third quarter, he stepped out of a sack, causing two Miami defenders to collide, and threw the game winning touchdown with four defenders closing in on him. For the game, Detmer was 38-54 (70.4%), 406 yards, and 3 touchdown passes. He even earned some style points by playing with a huge cut under his chin as a result of standing in the pocket and taking a shot just after he released a perfect strike to tight end Chris Smith in the second quarter.
The defense turned it up a notch in the fourth quarter to protect the seven point lead. Three times the mighty ‘Canes entered the red zone. Three times they came away empty handed. BYU recovered a Miami fumble the first time. Later, Miami took over at the BYU 38-yard line following a BYU fumble and unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but this drive ended with defensive back Ervin Lee intercepting a Craig Erickson pass in the end zone. With less than two minutes to play, Miami had one last chance. On fourth down, Erickson lofted a pass down the sideline. Ervin Lee was in coverage again. The Miami receiver jumped high in the air and caught the ball at the 2-yard line, but before he could come down with it Lee stuck his hand in and knocked the ball out. At that point, the offense took over and ran out the clock.
Scores (maximum points for each category is in parenthesis):
1. Caliber of Opponent: 25 points (25). Miami was ranked number 1, finished the season 10-2, and had 11 players selected in the 1991 NFL draft (2 first rounders including the number one overall pick) and 6 players selected in the 1992 NFL draft (2 first rounders).
2. What was at stake: 16 points (20). BYU was vigorously campaigning for Ty Detmer to win the Heisman Trophy. A bad game makes winning the Heisman much harder. BYU was ranked number 16 and a loss would have dropped BYU in the rankings.
3. What was the impact: 20 points (20). After the game, BYU jumped to number 5 in the AP poll, and the national championship was a possibility, even after BYU lost to Oregon three games later (BYU climbed back to as high as 4 and had three first place votes). Detmer became the front runner for the Heisman, and the momentum from this game landed him in first place at the end of the year. Detmer collected many other accolades, honors, and awards at season’s end. His stellar performance in this game had much to do with this.
4. Underdog: 10 points (10). BYU was a heavy underdog.
5. Dramatic win: 7 points (10). No points were scored in the fourth quarter, but the defense had plenty of late game heroics stopping all of Miami’s attempts to pull out a fourth quarter comeback.
6. Underlying storylines: 3 points (5). BYU won despite 5 turnovers. Miami quarterback Craig Erickson was also a Heisman Trophy candidate, Miami defensive tackle Russell Maryland won the Outland Trophy this year. Not only was Miami ranked number one, the Hurricanes were the defending national champions.
7. Nostalgia: 10 points (10). Only the National Championship means more to BYU fans than this game and the Heisman that it brought to Provo.
8. Total: 91 points
BYU vs. Miami, 1990
Full game footage:
BYU vs. Miami, 1990